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Sesame Street in Peru: Me and My Llama

I think the first time I ever saw a llama was on Sesame Street. Donít you remember the scene with that girl walking her llama singing, "Me and My Llama"? Anyway, I really haven't thought of these animals much since then. However, here in South America, the 3.5 million llamas are hard to ignore as they graze in pastures all over the continent. They can be spotted all across the countryside while traveling between Peruvian cities.

Llamas are members of the camelid family which first lived in North America about 40 million years ago, but about 3 million years ago they packed their bags and moved down to South America.

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Photo op with a llama in the streets of Cuzco.
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So, what does a llama do? Well, llamas can be thought of as big backpacks as they can carry up to 100lbs. You can also wear a llama sweater as llama wool is used to make clothing. Do people eat llama? Most Peruvian cities do not serve llama on their menus. But, if you hike up into the mountains you might get the chance to taste some llama meats. Once, I tried the steak of an alpaca, a distant cousin of the llama. It was interesting to say the least.

The llama definitely has some fascinating habits. When llamas mate, they do it lying down. Once pregnant, female llamas often spit on the ground to ward off other would-be suitors. This usually kills the mood anyway.

After mating, a baby is usually on its way. It takes just short of a full year until the baby, called a "cria" is born, but once born they're usually standing and nursing within 90 minutes. They only weigh 20-35 lbs. at birth but eventually grow to weigh 200-400 lbs. As adults, they're roughly the same height as me, around 5'5", and so we usually see eye to eye (too bad they don't use breath mints!).

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Through the window, I could see a llama that had been hit by the train.
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Sometimes, I got closer to the llamas than I had expected. While riding the train from Arequipa to Cuzco, I noticed three beautiful white crias walking away from our train as we came to a grinding halt. On the other side of the train car however, was a fourth cria lying on its side after being hit by the train. It was barely moving, but was suffering greatly. After some deliberation, one of the passengers took a knife and promptly slit the cria's throat putting it out of its misery. It was very sad to see a creature so young killed because of our train speeding through its pasture.

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By order of height we have: Abeja, Kevin, Llama, and Campesina.
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I now see llamas as more than just a scene from Sesame Street. The llama is one of my favorite animals. From time to time you can encounter colorfully dressed campesinas who are leading around llamas just to provide tourists with these rare photo opportunities. Abeja and I found one with a brown and white spotted face. He was only one year old and still looked smaller than fully-grown llamas. We took advantage of this rare photo opportunity and snapped a shot for posterity. So, we will always have this picture of me and my llama in Peru. Maybe Seasame Street will come and do a special on my own adventures with llamas here in Peru!

Kevin

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